GGC tennis teams prepare to defend their national titles — again

Madeline Bosnjak
Georgia Gwinnett College sophomore Madeline Bosnjak is the NAIA’s top-ranked woman and part of an experienced roster of Grizzlies set to defend their national title in 2019. (Photo: Tom Grason/GGC Athletics)

At practice the day before the season-opener, a spate of rapid-fire Spanish cut through the usual zing-and-grunt of the afternoon.

Two of Georgia Gwinnett College’s players were arguing a line call.

That intensity is both an ingredient in and a product of five straight NAIA national championships.

“The guys get on me, actually, but I just never want us to get satisfied,” said head coach Chase Hodges, the program’s architect. “And I think the results have proven that we haven’t.

“It’s so easy to get satisfied. Let’s take advantage of the situation we’re in. The streak is eventually going to end — all streaks end — but let’s see how long we can take it.”

The Grizzlies entered the season on the nation’s longest active intercollegiate winning streak and then extended it to 83 with an 8-1 rout over Lander University, the No. 5 team in Division II.

The men and women, who have won four of the last five national titles themselves, get the season going in earnest at 1 p.m. today against USC-Aiken as part of the Grizzly Invitational at the program’s Lawrenceville facility. GGC recently installed cameras at the tennis complex so matches can be live streamed.

“It is more difficult to stay on top than it is to get there just simply based on the fact that every team we play is extremely pumped up to beat us,” Hodges said. “They want to make their season in one day by beating us. I want (my players) to understand that. You come out a little bit flat, that could be it.

“You cannot let your guard down because that is what people are hoping you’re going to do.”

The men return four of their top six from last year’s unbeaten team, but it’s the top two that are gone. Hugely successful individually and as a doubles team, the departure of Kevin Konfederak and Gilad Berman leaves the door open for the next big name at GGC.

Ayed Zatar
Georgia Gwinnett College senior Ayed Zatar and the Grizzlies are riding an 83-match winning streak and aiming for their sixth straight national title in 2019. (Photo: Tom Grason/GGC Athletics)

“You’re walking into a situation with this program where you have to deliver,” Hodges said. “It’s not a situation where we’re looking to see what you can do a year down the road.

“They understand when they walk into the fire, they have to be ready.”

The Grizzlies have a pair of new additions who are now eligible and expected to be major impact players. Sophomore Federico Bonacia, from Italy, has been on campus for a year and freshman Jose Dugo, from Spain, just arrived in January.

“I’m really looking forward to rolling them out for our matches,” Hodges said. “We kind of feel like we’ve reloaded in a way.

“Yeah, we won all of the individual national titles (in the fall season),” Hodges said. “We’ve got the No. 1 singles player and the No. 1 doubles team in the nation. Losing Konfederak, who was an absolute beast, is obviously tough, but a guy like Federico Herrera Duran who (won the ITA Oracle Cup) is a guy who has really turned a corner for us.”

The nucleus from last year is headlined by two senior captains, Ayed Zatar and Rafael Coutinho. Zatar is teaming with Valentino Caratini as No. 1 doubles.

“We’ve got 10 guys on the roster and they’re a really tight-knit group,” Hodges said. “It really is like a family atmosphere. I know people use that terminology all the time, but I truly mean it. These guys are together 24/7 and they’re like brothers so we really feel like we’ve built that vibe up.

“They’re extremely supportive of one another. One of the nice things about the streak and the previous Grizzlies who have graduated is they’re really supportive of the current guys. They truly want to see the program continue to do well.”

The women were relatively young and inexperienced last season — and still went 18-2 on their way to a third straight NAIA championship and fourth in the last five years.

“The women last year, for us to win the national title, was quite an accomplishment,” Hodges said. “We have most of our team back, so that’s a good thing, but you want to make sure they’re not not satisfied and continue to work hard.”

Sophomore Madeline Bosnjak is the top-ranked player in the nation and won the ITA Oracle Cup title in the fall. Also returning are fellow first-team All-Americans junior Emerald Able and senior Henar Munoz, along with second-team selection senior Maria Prados Cid.

Freshman Tereza Koplova, a Czech, came to campus during winter break and is expected to add some more pop to the lineup.

“The biggest thing with the women’s program is if we continue to peak at the right time, in May, which we tend to do, then they’ll be completely fine,” Hodges said. “I’m not overly concerned with results in February and March.

“Obviously I want to win, just like anybody. That’s why I’m a coach, you know, but I do really see, especially with the women, that we do tend to take our game up a level in May. It’s a good problem to have. They compete best when it matters most.”

One of the team’s two losses last season came in April against Keiser and fueled the Grizzlies run to the finals — where they took their revenge.

“Experience is not an issue,” Hodges said. “Last year we were talking about how inexperienced we were so I hate to rest on experience. That’s when you get beat. We can’t just rely on that. We have to continue to work hard and continue to develop our game and continue to be hungry.”

Article courtesy of Christine Troyke, Gwinnett Daily Post.

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